Italian photographer Luisa Carcavale’s portraits of the interior lives—and the inner worlds—of citizens in lockdown.
Self-taught Italian portrait photographer Luisa Carcavale, whose work has been featured in the likes of ELLE Italia and Vanity Fair Italia, applies her hands-on method and aesthetic rigor via video-chat with her subjects for her new project, “The Lockdown People.” Carcavale built her collection of subjects from around the world through friends, friends-of-friends, and word-of-mouth. She asked each person she photographed what they missed the most during lockdown and used their answers to create a diptych symbolizing their response—one portrait of the individual, and one of their living space.
How did you get your start in photography?
Photography has always been a natural predisposition. My relationship with it began very early, when at the age of 9, in a supermarket in my hometown, I found a toy camera, a promotional item that came with another product and began to use it. Sometime after that I managed to get a semi-professional camera to fulfill my natural urge to shoot. It became my means of expression. I set up a dark room in the garage and I remember investing all my pocket money in the development and printing of the rolls. I didn't get to go to a photography school after high school; I decided to enroll at Sapienza University in Rome, where I studied Visual Communications. I constantly kept myself updated, attending to workshops and visiting exhibitions as a self-taught photographer. I started to photograph the underground, live pop music scene in Rome for local magazines, and then some artists asked me to take their portraits for album covers. This gave me a lot of visibility and I started working with important magazines, major music labels, and the film industry.
How did this project, “The Lockdown People”, begin?
"The Lockdown People" was brought about by a strong sense of absence. In this suspended time since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, what I missed most was being able to express myself. Framing and shooting. I thought that maybe around the world many people, like me, felt a kind of emptiness in their eyes, in their voice, in their hands. It’s a difficult feeling to explain. I started this photographic project in order to express this feeling and to investigate the same experience in others, to portray people in this shared moment of deprivation.
You found some of these people through word of mouth and web networking. What were you looking for in your candidates? What did the selection process look like?
At first, I started with my friends, artists and craftsmen, and then expanded my network through them, always focusing on the common denominators of the lockdown experience and the sense of disquiet that bound us together. I asked some friends who don't live in Italy to introduce me to people in other countries affected by COVID-19, and after taking their portraits I asked them if they could introduce me to other people, so I created a big network.
After the participants gave you a virtual tour of their homes, you instructed them in setting up the backdrop for the shoot. Could you tell us a bit more about your curation?
My photography is aesthetically precise. In my portraits, I try to vary the setting as much as possible, gathering different elements to contextualize the space. The interaction of people with their surroundings is an important element of my style. I think it’s fundamental to make the subject understand the concept of framing. I prefer the subject to be placed in the center. The light must be natural and diffused, the spaces ordered, chromatically balanced and proportionate. Nothing has been left to chance, in some cases not even wardrobe. It’s important to keep the same rigor and symmetry for the second photo in each diptych, because they are read together. The photos complement each other and form a whole. I chose the vertical format to highlight this equilibrium.
The shots were taken by the subjects themselves or with the help of a relative, in either case, I directed the shoots remotely through a video call or webcam.
"I started this project to portray people in this shared moment of deprivation."
Which part of a person’s home do you find most intriguing or revealing?
It varies from person to person. In some cases I was very impressed by the exterior surrounding their homes and their living rooms.
In preparation for the shoot, you asked all the participants what they miss the most during isolation. How did these answers contribute to the final diptychs?
The two went hand in hand. When asked what they were missing most in this period, people usually described something intangible, immaterial, so I tried to represent their answers symbolically with an object they had at home or simply the view through a windowpane.
What do you miss the most during isolation?
Photographing and traveling. Thanks to this project I was able to do both.
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